Half of Norfolk parents still have back to school worries, EDP survey finds
- Credit: DNEAT
Almost half of Norfolk parents are concerned about sending children back to school for the start of the new term, an EDP survey has found.
Some 45pc of parents said they were either ‘very’ or ‘quite’ worried about youngsters heading back to the classroom.
Norfolk’s 422 schools are maintaining “proportionate protective measures” to help keep children and staff safe as pupils return to lessons from September 6.
But distancing rules, "bubble" groups and staggered starts have been axed, while science experiments, sport, music and drama are back on the timetable.
The EDP poll of parents found there is still widespread apprehension over youngsters being back even though more than half said their children were looking forward to a return to lessons.
In a recognition that some parents remain anxious, a back-to-school campaign has been launched to allay concerns and explain the Department for Education (DfE) guidance, including all secondary school students being Covid tested.
More than half (54pc) of more than 200 parents who took part in the survey said they were happy with measures in place at their child’s school, though a third said they would like to see stricter measures remain in place.
Half of parents said they were worried about the pupils no longer being taught in consistent class ‘bubbles’ or fixed year groups to avoid mixing.
Asked what their biggest concern was about children returning to school, more than a third (38pc) said the lack of Covid measures, 35pc said the risk of their child catching the virus and bringing it home.
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In a bid to avoid a repeat of last year when large numbers of pupils had to be sent home to self-isolate, the new DfE framework advises that schools only close if “thresholds” of positive cases have been reached, such as five ‘close mixing’ students or staff testing positive within 10 days.
Half of those who took part in the survey said their children had needed to isolate from school due to positive coronavirus cases last year.
Education being further disrupted and pupils being sent home to resume remote learning was also cited as a concern by numerous parents.
Jonathan Rockey, principal at Wymondham High Academy, said: “Whilst risk assessments have been revised to reflect the changing expectations, we will still very much have risk planning in place, but we do not anticipate that this will substantially or indefinitely impact on us in terms of lost learning time.
“The DfE contingency framework is very clear in terms of case management and is a document that, despite revisions, is familiar to all schools.
“With our experiences over the last 18 months in terms of remote learning, attendance and large-scale events we're certainly well-prepared for the new term.”
Former local head Geoff Barton, who is now general secretary of the ASCL headteacher union, said: “Government guidance is very different from the last academic year and the control measures are less stringent.
"Our concerns are over the potential risk of a high number of infections among pupils which cause more educational disruption and may lead to some young people suffering serious symptoms.
“It will be a case of seeing how all this plays out in reality as the new term starts and progresses.
"But it will be very important that the government is ready to act in the event of a rising tide of coronavirus infections and provide further support to schools and colleges as necessary.”
Parents of secondary school pupils were split on whether they should continue to wear face coverings in school, with 52pc in favour, 39pc against and 10pc unsure.
Half said they would be wearing face masks themselves to drop off or pick up their children from school.
When it came to concerns of their children themselves about being back in school, 56pc of parents said their children were looking forward to it, 32pc were ‘feeling anxious’ and 13pc were ‘dreading it’.
‘A sensible precaution’ - most teenagers to get Covid jab
Six in 10 parents of over-16s said they had either had or were having the coronavirus vaccination to coincide with returning to school.
A third (32pc) said their teen son or daughter would not be getting jabbed while 13pc told our survey they were undecided.
Currently those aged 16 and over can be vaccinated, while 12 to 15-year-olds who are clinically vulnerable or live with adults who are at increased risk are also eligible, though it is not mandatory.
Jon Ford, principal of Open Academy Norwich, said: “The vaccination seems like a sensible precaution and we will work with the students to ensure that those who wish to get vaccinated at the earliest possible opportunity.
“The Covid situation is a complex moving situation. All we can really be sure of is that we will monitor guidance regularly and respond as we always do by following the guidance as well as we can to keep our community as safe as possible.”
‘No bubbles and optional face masks is bonkers’
Parents revealed a range of concerns about pupils returning to school.
On the one hand many expressed anxiety over the on-going risks posed by Covid, while for others their greatest worries were of more disrupted school and lost learning.
One parent told our survey: “No bubbles,no social distancing and it's optional to wear face masks, which is bonkers as they are not vaccinated.
“Maybe they might be the unlucky one to get Covid and be really ill with it. Plus if it's still spreading easily among children it won't be long before we have a new variant.”
Another added: “Lots of vaccinated people are catching and spreading the virus which puts our kids at risk. Long Covid is also a huge concern in both adults and kids.”
One mum summed up her concerns as “no masks, no proper ventilation, and no access to vaccines for my 12-year-old.”
However, one respondent said: “I am concerned that if schools close again, many children without access to online learning will miss out on their education.”
Another said restrictions would mean the continued loss of after-school clubs and school trips. “There is absolutely no enrichment on my child’s school curriculum,” they added.
‘Parents should have confidence in schools’
Both parents and children can be forgiven for having mixed emotions over the return to school.
As with many aspects of Covid, opinion remains divided over the risks and while for some the return to the classroom cannot come soon enough, others remain conflicted.
The new school year begins with measures such as masks, social distancing and class ‘bubbles’ gone, but others like regular testing and air quality monitors will remain.
Children need to get back into the normal routine of school, back with their friends, playing, learning and having fun.
Everyone wants to avoid more unnecessary disruption and missed education.
And after 18 months of experience with guidelines and restrictions, schools are this time well prepared and are best placed to understand parents’ concerns.
The virus hasn’t gone away, and there will be bumps in the road, but parents should have confidence in schools to do the right thing.